“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Sunday 29 March 2015

London's Phoney Houses

Here are two examples of interesting, yet phoney, houses in London that the unobservant passer-by may miss as they go about their daily business.

The Upside Down House

The “Upside Down” house can be found on Blackfriars Road near the junction with Stamford Street. The building originally dates from 1780 and the current upside-down façade was installed as an art project, by the artist who had previously created Margate’s “sliding house”. As you can see in the below pictures, the roof of the building nestles on the pavement, whilst the front door to the building floats high-up in the air. Even the shop’s sign, the for-sale sign and the guttering are upside down. A news-paper article from December 2013 suggests that this interesting art installation may soon be demolished so that the building can be repurposed into residential dwellings. So if you want to see this phoney house for yourself, you had best get your skates on.

Blackfriars Road's "Upside-Down" house.

Leinster Gardens

The second phoney house can be found at 23 - 24 Leinster Gardens in Paddington, where a fake façade has been created to hide what lurks behind. During the construction of the world’s first underground railway (the Metropolitan Railway), the houses at 23 - 24 Leinster Gardens had to be demolished to accommodate the Paddington to Bayswater section of the line (opened in 1868). Once the line had been installed it was decided to replace the houses with a façade to enable the prestigious terrace of upmarket 5-story houses to retain its grand image. Walking along Leinster Gardens the casual observer may not notice that the roof line above 23 - 24 is slightly different to the rest of the terrace, or that the doors to the property have no handles and that the windows are all painted a uniform grey.

The façade is only a few feet thick and the deceit is visible if you walk around onto Porchester Terrace and view the building from behind. Here you can see the girders supporting the façade and the section of underground railway that the façade hides. Here the railway tunnel is open to the elements, and back in the 1860’s the steam trains using the line would have used this open section of track to vent off their built-up steam. The fake frontage of 23 - 24 Leinster Gardens would have mostly hidden this venting from the well-to-do residents of the street.

23 - 24 Leinster Gardens. 

Notice the fake windows in comparison to the property on the right. 

Looking along the terrace.

A front door with no handles!

The painted on windows.

The rear view of the facade and the rail line that it hides.

Pictures: London (March 2015).

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Wednesday 18 March 2015

The Shop that Fought in the War of 1812

The village of Wickham in Hampshire is home to a rather unusual building, known as the Chesapeake Mill. The Chesapeake Mill is an old watermill that was built in 1820 and worked as a commercial watermill until 1976. After 1976 the mill was re-purposed for its current occupation, which is serving as an antiques and craft shop. The history of the Chesapeake Mill starts long before its construction in 1820 however.  It really starts on the 2nd December 1799 when the USS Chesapeake was launched from the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia.

The USS Chesapeake was a United States Navy three-masted heavy frigate of wooden construction, rated at 38-guns. The USS Chesapeake’s military career included service in: the Quasi-War between the United States of America and France (1798 – 1800); the First Barbary War between the United States of America and the Muslim Barbary States of Northwest Africa (1801 – 1805); and ultimately in the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom (1812 - 1815).

In December 1812 the USS Chesapeake commenced her first patrol of the War of 1812.  During this patrol she was responsible for the capture of five British merchant vessels and the re-capture of an American vessel from British Privateers. She completed this patrol by returning to Boston on the 9th April 1813 where she underwent a refit and a change of Commanding Officer. Whilst the USS Chesapeake was refitting in Boston, the British 38-gun frigate HMS Shannon arrived at Boston and commenced a blockade of the port.

By the 1st June 1813, the USS Chesapeake was again ready to put to sea, so she sailed out of Boston to challenge the HMS Shannon’s blockade of the port. The ships were evenly matched, with both vessels being of comparable size and similar armament. The only significant difference between the vessels was the size of their crews, the USS Chesapeake had a compliment of 379 men in comparison to HMS Shannon 's crew of just 330.

The two ships met at around five o’clock in the afternoon 37 km east of Boston lighthouse, with the first exchange of cannon fire occurring when the ships had closed to a range of 35 metres apart. This exchange of cannon fire lasted for around 6 minutes with HMS Shannon scoring the first hit. The two vessels where soon alongside each other and HMS Shannon secured herself to the USS Chesapeake. HMS Shannon now concentrated her fire on USS Chesapeake’s gun crews, killing many of the men. The USS Chesapeake was finally disabled by cannon fire which destroyed her wheel, leaving her unable to manoeuvre. With the USS Chesapeake disabled, she was quickly boarded by the British and her remaining crew subdued in hand-to-hand combat. The entire battle only lasted around 11 minutes, during which HMS Shannon is reported to have had 23 men killed and 56 men wounded, whilst the USS Chesapeake had somewhere around 50 - 60 men killed, with 85 – 99 men wounded (although exact numbers differ depending on the source).

The captured USS Chesapeake was eventually repaired by the Royal Navy and was put back into service as HMS Chesapeake and served until July 1819 when she was put up for sale. HMS Chesapeake was sold to a timber merchant who in turn broke up the vessel and sold her timbers to a local miller, a Mr John Prior. The timbers from the Chesapeake were re-used by John Prior in the construction of the Chesapeake Mill, with the interior of the building designed around the length of the available deck beams.

Some say that the timbers of the mill still bear bloodstains and bullets from that singularly bloody battle. I saw no evidence of this, but you may be more lucky.

The Chesapeake Mill, Wickham, Hampshire.

HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake at battle
HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake locked together.
The boarding party fights its way onto the USS Chesapeake.
The USS Chesapeake is taken as a prize.

Pictures: Hampshire (February 2015).

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Saturday 7 March 2015

The Portuguese Fireplace

In the New Forest in Hampshire between the village of Emery Down and the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, close to Millyford Bridge, there is a stone fireplace sitting alone on a patch of grass beside the road. The fireplace is known as the “Portuguese Fireplace” or sometimes as the “Canadian Fireplace” and it serves as a war memorial, to honour a role that foreign military units stationed in the New Forest played in the First World War. The plaque which accompanies the fireplace explains:

"This is the site of a hutted camp occupied by a Portuguese army unit during the First World War. This unit assisted the depleted local labour force in producing timber for the war effort. The Forestry Commission have retained the fireplace from the cookhouse as a memorial to the men who lived and worked here and acknowledge the financial assistance of the Portuguese government in its renovation."

From the start of the First World War, essential timber required for the Allied war effort was primarily supplied from Canada. However by early 1916 the Canadian provision of timber could not meet the demand of the Allied war machine, so Britain needed to start felling its own trees. The problem with this solution was that most of the skilled local foresters where away fighting the war, so foreign military manpower was required to plug the resource short fall.

In response to this demand for skilled lumbermen, the Canadian Forestry Corps sent men and equipment to the UK, and one lumber camp was set up in the New Forest to begin felling and processing trees. The New Forest lumber camp became a significant settlement, housing around 200 Canadians and covering around 4 to 5 acres.  It was supported by a number of saw mills and even a narrow gauge railway to transport the timber out of the forest. By 1917 further manpower was needed to support the Canadian Forestry Corps, so 150 Portuguese labourers joined the Canadian effort and set up camp with them. The Portuguese Fireplace is all that remains of this part of the war effort. The fireplace was originally the fireplace of the camp's cookhouse.

The Portuguese Fireplace is not the only War Memorial in the New Forest. Further along the road from Emery Down to Bolderwood there is a memorial cross that is dedicated to Canadian forces. The cross was originally erected on the 14th April 1944 by Canadian forces, for their religious services whilst they were stationed in the New Forest in the run up to D-Day during the Second World War. The cross has been kept as a memorial to these men ever since. The plaque at the base of the cross reads:

"On this site a cross was erected to the Glory of God on April 14th 1944. Services were held here until D Day 6th June 1944 by men of the 3rd Canadian Division R.C.A.S.C.

So whilst today the New Forest is a place for holidays and leisure it once played a vital part in the United Kingdom's war machine.

The Portuguese Fireplace.

The Canadian Cross.

Pictures: Hampshire (February 2015).

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